NFPA's Take: Study Provides Data in Argument for Home Fire Sprinklers

There are currently about 400 communities across the country with residential fire sprinkler ordinances for use in single-family dwellings, designed to meet NFPA 13D. We know such systems provide significant life safety benefits for residents as well as firefighters and better protect property from fire.

However, up until now there has been little hard data on what these systems cost and the cost discussion in local communities can sometimes be a huge roadblock to more widespread adoption of ordinances. Informal estimates of typical installation costs can vary widely and influence decision makers' views on the viability of sprinkler systems in new homes.

A few months ago, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) funded a study through the Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF) to gather a national perspective on the cost of home fire sprinklers. Conducted by Newport Partners out of Maryland, the study looked at installation costs and insurance premium discounts associated with the installation of home fire sprinkler systems for 10 communities; nine in the United States and one in Canada.

They chose communities to reflect a mix of sprinkler systems in terms of type of system, house, piping material, installer, water supply, etc. A Canadian community with a well established ordinance was included to add more diversity to the community mix. Communities selected for the study included: Pitt Meadows, British Columbia (Canada); San Clemente, CA; Fort Collins, CO; Huntley, IL; Matteson, IL ; North Andover, MA; Carroll County, MD; Prince George's County, MD; Wilsonville, OR; and Pleasant View, TN.

The project was also overseen by a technical advisory panel that came from very broad interests. They were: David Butry, National Institute of Standards & Technology; Mike Chapman, Chapman Homes; Keith Covington, Third Coast Design Studio, LLC; Paul Emrath, National Association of Home Builders; Jeff Feid, State Farm Insurance; Tony Fleming, Metropolitan Fire Protection; J. Dennis Gentzel, Office of the State Fire Marshal; Michael Kebles, Las Vegas Valley Water District; Gary Keith, National Fire Protection Association; Ron Murray, UA Local 290, Portland, OR, James Tidwell, International Code Council; Paul Valentine, Mt. Prospect, IL, Fire Department; and Kenneth Zaccard, Hanover Park, IL, Fire Dept, representing the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

The FPRF just released the report. The full report is available at the NFPA's website, but the key finding is that the cost of installing sprinkler systems to the home builder averaged $1.61 per sprinklered square foot. Sprinklered square feet is the total area of spaces with sprinklers. The cost of sprinkler systems to the home builder, in dollars per sprinklered square foot, ranged from $0.38 to $3.66. The costs include all costs to the builder associated with the system including design, installation, and other costs such as permits, additional equipment, increased tap and water meter fees - to the extent that they apply.

This is an important study to provide actual data to those interested in furthering the use of home fire sprinklers. According to NFPA research, the chances of dying in a fire are reduced by one-half to three-fourths when sprinklers are present. The average property loss per fire is cut by one-half to two-thirds, compared to fires where sprinklers are not present.

Sprinklers typically reduce the chances of dying in a home fire by one-half to two-thirds in any kind of property where they are used. Together with smoke alarms, sprinklers cut the risk of dying in a home fire 82 percent, relative to having neither. With more than eight of 10 fire deaths occurring in the home, there is a real need to find viable solutions that will save lives. Home fire sprinklers can be that solution.

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JAMES M. SHANNON became president and chief executive officer of the National Fire Protection Association in June 2002. He has served as NFPA senior vice president and general counsel overseeing all legal affairs of the association and also has administrative and real estate responsibility for NFPA's properties. Previously, he was elected Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.